Psalms

psalms tree

My sacred ground is a little clearing in the bottomland along a creek with no name.  I come here almost every day.  Sometimes I linger a bit.  Others I simply turn back toward a home on the hill.

The tree I call “Psalms.”  A water oak that has clung to the bank of No-Name for at least a hundred years.  Just a sapling when this bottomland was all corn.  Feed for the horses and mules.  A few barrels of meal and some roasting ears.  Maybe some traded to a family of famous bootleggers who still live over the ridge, the last now too old to do anything but piddle around the yard, tending fruit trees and flower beds.

Psalms will lose the battle with gravity one day when a hundred-year flood undercuts the bank.  I hope that I am not alive to see it.

Because this is sacred ground.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

Two graves here, each covered with field stone.  One for a companion, a dog that I loved more than most people.  The second a sweet little lady who never was anything but.  I had her put down sixth-months ago, before the suffering of ruined hips became more than she or I could bear.

I have cried four times that I can recall in the last 40 years.  The first when I lost my dad.  The second when I found that some certainties are not.  The third and fourth over these two small graves.  Biblical crying.  Great sobs and blubbering.  Sorrowful moans worthy of sackcloth and ashes.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

He brought her here six years ago, because he is like me and this spot is sacred to him too.  Got down on a knee and asked her to be his wife.  A happy day, the kind that sticks with you forever.  Love that clings tenaciously to the bank of the river of your heart.

I came here today, as I am accustomed to do on a Sunday afternoon.  Two little ones riding along behind me in a pull-cart.  They look at trees and butterflies.  Ask a lot of questions.  Throw rocks and sticks into the creek.  My stony heart smiles.

It is written that an ancient Hebrew put up a stone on his sacred ground, a place where he met with God.

I have no stone, but I have Psalms.

Tender Age in Bloom

dafodils

Too soon.

Redbud and plum, a scattering of color along the roadside.  Daffodils in clumps,  revenants in the side-yard where someone once lived.  Red, the ugly cousin of Sugar, right behind.  Sweet yellow jasmine draped over yet-bare limbs, the witch’s apple to awakened bees.  Tender buds swell — buckeye, gum and poplar.  Sap rises, the pump that fuels the engine of life.  Soon muck-bottoms will no longer hold a boot print.

Easy for a man to walk along, whistling Satchmo:

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along
There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song

Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head
Get up, get out of your bed
Cheer up, cheer up; the sun is red
Live, love, laugh, and be happy

Too soon.

February is not the time for these things, even in the Heart of Dixie.  What comes in like a lamb goes out like a lion.

Mother is hard on the tender things.  She entices and devours with the same toss of her head and a crooked smile.

The promise will be broken.

Purple and yellow blossoms scattered on the ground.  .

Of Barns and Men

barn

Just a barn at sunset.

A barn that once had a purpose.  Four stalls for horse or mule.  Small tack room for saddles, bridles and leads.  Loft up above for square bales.

A poet or an artist might describe it as “weathered” or “rustic.”

I am neither.  I like solid words.  Words with a certain heft that you can hold in your hand or put in your pocket and bring out twenty years from now, meaning intact.

I call it “old.”

The tin roof has stood the test of time.  Poplar sideboards still sound.  But the loft door sags, as does the gate.  Time passes.  “Things fall apart.  The centre cannot hold.”

Someone with skills I cannot fathom built this barn for its purpose.  Probably out of the ether with no written plan.  Visualized and then constructed with hand tools.  Style and method learned from father, who learned it from his father.  Hammer, handsaw, sweat and muscle.

I would like to think he paused after the last nail had been driven.  Admired his work like the Master in His holy book.  But likely as not he had a dipper of water from the well across the road.  Wiped his brow, spit, then headed on down the road to the next little patch of land where a barn was a needful thing.  Rest reserved only on the appointed day.

This day draws to its own close.  Perhaps these lines only the scribbled imaginings of a lonesome pilgrim who walked the land at the close of day.  But one thing holds true.  They don’t make them like they used to.

Barns or men.

 

The Subtlety of the Season

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I have written about Fall here before.  My favorite season sometimes leads to metaphor, as it did here.  Sometimes it is what it is.  I write, you decide.

This year, subtle signs without solid substance.  Three weeks ago, my front porch hummingbird feeders  were suddenly occupied by a charm of twenty or so.  A few days later, nary a bird.  Just another stop along the way to southern Mexico.

Not much color yet.  The red of the Sourwood, always faithful to lead.  Faint yellow from the Black Walnut.  Poplar noncommittal.  Some of the oaks with nothing more than brown at the leaf tips.  It has been a hot and dry September.  Rain and cooler temperatures are all that can enrich the Artist’s palette.

Temperature is my gauge.  Not even close to expectations.  Only one night thus far has seen a slight dip into the upper fifties.  No need for a jacket at sunrise.  Long-sleeved shirts on hangers since March.

Even so, there is a certain quality of the light before sunrise and sunset.  A softness that is felt more than seen.  It invokes a sort of sadness in me.  In the Fall of life, waiting for the Fall.  Wishing my life away.  Anxiously waiting for the next day with a limited number of days left.

I took the photo above a few days ago.  The last of the Summer wildflowers.  A bit of mist in the bottom.  That softness of light that I cannot adequately describe.

She comes, but she will make me wait again.

And the waiting is the hardest part.*

 

*Line lifted from Southern singer/songwriter Tom Petty.  Rest in peace.  We sang along with happy hearts.

The Valley of the Shadow

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It is Coleta Valley on the map.

I passed this way a few days ago.  Stopped for a photo and a memory.

Once upon a time three boys wandered into this spot in an old Jeep Scout.  The Scout is no more.  Neither is one of the boys.  The other two are worse for wear.

The day that old Scout clanked into the valley the driver immediately christened it “the back side of heaven.”   It was the most beautiful landscape they had ever seen, and the name stuck, part and parcel of the bond between them.

In their boyhood journeys together it became the end of the line.  The turning-point back toward home.

The mountains in the background are a part of the Talladega National Forest and the Hollins Wildlife Management Area.  The boys spent countless teen-age hours in those mountains, learning to hunt white-tailed deer.  Never any success, as deer were not abundant in Alabama in those days.  They might see less than ten a season between the three of them, and they never managed to kill one.  That was not important.  Still isn’t.

In other seasons they bounced along Bull Gap Road on Friday and Saturday nights, straight through the heart of that country between home and Coleta.  Spot-lighting deer without guns when that pastime was legal in Alabama.  The thrill of eyes reflecting back like stars from the beam of the white light gave hope of success for the next deer season.

Occasionally they brought a girl or two along for the ride.  Jokes told.  Tales of nocturnal killers that roamed those woods, always useful if the girls wouldn’t scoot over a little closer.  Zeppelin, Skynyrd, and “Do you feel like we do?” blaring from the Scout’s tinny speakers.

Conversations eventually turned spiritual.  Always.  What Jesus said here, what He did there.  What it all meant now.  The driver had plans to be a preacher of the Gospel.  In truth, he already was.

A couple of hours later Coleta, then the trip back toward home.

The boys grew up and went their separate ways, as boys do.  Contact became less frequent, then not at all.

The preacher got his flock, but his life unravelled, the thread picked and pulled until the fabric was unrecognizable.  His journey down the road of life ended, leaving a shadow on that valley that blue skies and wispy clouds cannot overcome.

He once reminded us that Jesus said “the road to heaven is narrow, and few find it.”

I know that the road to Coleta is also narrow, but there was a time when three boys travelled all the way to the back side of it.

 

 

A Bluebird Day*

It was a bluebird day in the Heart of Dixie.

Not a cloud in the sky, and although the June heat arrived in May this year, today was pleasant.  A cold-front passed last night, and there was at least a whisper of a breeze all day long.  It was the kind of day when you can’t help but be glad to be alive, when you get outside and forget about whatever worries and troubles you might be harboring in the depths of your heart.

All across my little corner of Alabama, people moved about.  Lawn mowers run and gardens tended.  Pickups left early with boats in tow, headed to the lake, and returned hours later, occupants sun-blistered and happy.  A seemingly continuous rumble of Harleys on the highway past my house, sometimes solo but more often in twos and threes.

I stayed around the home place, content to do a little gardening.  I took a nap. Bluebird days are good for that sort of thing, too.

Come away with me.  What you doing hanging ’round here boy?

Yes sir, a bluebird day, good for the soul.  A rare moment of calm — contentment even.

Contentment comes easier for some than others.  I remember a time long ago, when I was 18 or 19 years old.  Home from college, helping my dad on one of his endless outdoor projects.  Babbling on and on about future plans as we worked in the summer sun.  How I was going to do this or that, or if I could just do this, then that would likely follow.

And I remember my dad stopping, wiping his brow with the back of his hand, looking at me dead-square in the eyes.

“Son, ain’t you ever satisfied?”

No dad, I wasn’t.  Still ain’t 30 years later.  It’s not in my nature.  I suspect I got it from you, and you probably got it from your daddy.

An hour or so before sunset, my house began to fill up.  My sweet Honduran daughter Nolvia arrived with her fine son, little Ethan, who toddled around my front yard chasing a big purple ball.  Next my oldest son John and his beautiful bride-to-be Molly, fresh from house-hunting.  Finally my youngest, Kyle, and his gorgeous girlfriend Haley, whose green eyes always sparkle like diamonds.

The Redhead prepared a delicious dinner.  We all gathered around the table and enjoyed the time together.  Laughter and love — good times and memories.

Later as the sun set a full moon rose. Hayley and I chased lightning bugs in the gathering dusk.  We caught a whole jar full.

Life is short, boy.  You getting old.  Better get moving before it’s too late.  It might already be too late.

They are all gone now, and soon the house will be quiet again.  Time moves on.

It was a bluebird day in Alabama.

Tonight is a whippoorwill night.

*Originally published in 2012.  We’re all older now, marriages and babies added.  I’m still me.  Guess that will never change.